The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is the safest, most efficient and complex airspace system in the world. Because of this, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires stable and predictable support for air traffic control services, but the longest full-government shutdown in American history has put a strain on the industry as a whole.
“Political brinkmanship has no place in a 24/7 safety-critical operational environment,” said Peter Dumont, Chief Executive of the Air Traffic Control Association. “Air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals should be able to show up at work every day to do their jobs without the distraction of worrying about how they will make their next mortgage payment.”
The government shutdown not only requires federal employees to work without compensation, but it can also have unexpected, long-lasting ramifications on the American aviation that could be experienced for years to come. More specifically, a lack of adequate staffing can also hurt the FAA’s ability to develop new technology, which prevents new controllers from getting the amount of time they need for proper training.
On Friday, January 11, NATCA filed a lawsuit for withholding wages without due process and for failure to pay at least minimum wage to nearly 20,000 controllers who are required to work during the shutdown. These allegations violate the Fifth and the Thirteenth Amendment.
A U.S. District Court judge sympathetically denied NATCA’s request for a temporary restraining order against the government on January 15, however, there is an expedited briefing on their motion for a preliminary injunction which is expected to be held January 31.
“We are encouraged that he acknowledged the ongoing hardships our members are facing because of the shutdown,” said NATCA vice president Trish Gilbert.
Numerous federal workers have suffered intangible losses, according to the lawsuit, families have been unable to pay for medical treatments. Some members have even lost their security clearances by missing court-ordered alimony payments, and other losses are those that no future monetary compensation will suffice.
The association has also turned to the public at select public airports with a pamphlet campaign. These tri-fold brochures detail the negative effects on controllers, staffing, maintenance, and safety concerns that have transpired during the shutdown. Their public airport efforts will expand to 50 airports nationwide in the upcoming days.
“Air traffic control is very much a team effort, and the worst part of a shutdown, beyond furloughs and uncertain date of their next paycheck, is the fact that many key members of the team are sent home. That hurts the operation,” said NATCA president, Paul Rinaldi. “This shutdown must end immediately. Our union will not stop until the government reopens.”